The making of my dream bike
BY KIERSTIN KLOECKNER
I may be the most difficult person I know to build a bike for – seriously.
I have just the perfect balance of knowing exactly what I want and having no clue what I want. This would make any custom frame builder cringe.
I freak out about any major purchase (car, house, trip and bikes). I am not one of those people who see something they love and purchase it on the spot. I must mull it over for several days, weighing out the options and making sure I “need” it, making sure I’ll use it, and then, only then, will I buy it.
The only time I have ever made an on-the-spot decision about a bike was when I saw a LeMond Poprad sitting unused in a friend’s garage. Instantly, I offered her whatever she wanted for it. That bike has brought me on adventure after adventure. It introduced me to gravel, made me a more confident rider and fits me like a glove. It was the best purchase/trade I ever made.
That bike also inspired me to build my new bike. A bike I hope gets me into, and out of, equal amounts of trouble. This, my friend, is my short synopsis of how I went about building what I lovingly refer to as “my apocalypse bike” – not because I want to outlive an apocalypse, but because I know this bike will!
Four years ago, I was introduced to Paul Reardon. Although he’s not the first bike builder I’ve been friends with, he is the one I feel closest to. When I met Paul, he was in the beginning stages of making Blue Steel Bikes known in the custom frame-building community. He had built my friend Tim a couple of bikes at that point (he’s gone on to build several more for him), and although he was only building with steel, he knew he wanted to expand to titanium.
Because I know myself a bit too well (I prefer riding my bikes versus cleaning and maintaining them), and because I live in a climate where rust eats bicycles when ridden year round, I knew I wanted titanium over steel if I ever went custom. This gave me a couple of years to save up for when Paul started making titanium a big part of his business.
Fast forward to this past fall and the first big step. I had Paul order the titanium tubing for my frame. There was no going back now. This bike was going to become a reality. Little did I know that was the easy part; and little did I know, my good friend and builder would want to kill me by the end of this venture.
I had several friends take part in the design process, but the real magic came down to Colin O’Brien, the owner at Cronometro, and of course, Paul Reardon, owner and founder of Blue Steel.
Paul takes measurements for each custom bike (from what the rider desires) and places them into his CAD system where he can see it in 3D and also make it move like a real bike to make sure there aren’t issues – like toe overlap.
Many don’t know that Colin actually started as a bike builder himself before he went full force into Cronometro in 1974. He was also a pro racer for the Trek team in the 80s. This gives him an understanding to bike fits that many don’t have (the builder and the racer side). He spent almost three hours with me and my beloved LeMond. He agreed that the fit was near perfect, other than my hideously long cranks (175mm) that somehow I’ve made work over the years.
The attention to detail both Paul and Colin put into their work makes me breathe much easier at night, even though I wrote them both (mostly Paul) in complete panic attacks multiple times.
Step two: The components and fork
I knew I wanted Shimano Ultegra. I also wanted a similar gear ratio to my triple chainring on my LeMond but in a compact. Did I really want an 11 speed? I was talked into it. Now, does this old fashioned Luddite-style rider (who doesn’t even use GPS) go with shifting cables or DI2 electronic shifting? I had used DI2 in Mallorca the year prior and liked it, but my worrywart self kept thinking, “What if it loses power in the middle of the woods and I’m 50 miles away from a place to recharge?” This is how my brain works, but I have persuasive friends, and those friends talked me into DI2! For the brakes, I went with Paul Klamper mechanical disc. Half of my friends chide me for using rim brakes on most of my bikes still and half applaud me. This was my middle ground – more stopping power while still being able to service them in the field (AKA – 50 miles from nowhere).
I had specific requirements for my fork. First, it had to have braze-ons for extra water bottle cages or a full rack and full fenders. It also needed to be carbon to help take some of the shock off my upper body since titanium is very stiff, and I wouldn’t be using a shock. Paul chose a beautiful Whiskey fork. It not only functions well but looks beautiful!
Step three: The wheels and spokes
I ride with a misfit-backpacking, dirtball-touring, adventure-seeking crew. A crew who believes in the saying “run whatcha brung,” but is also geeky as can be when it comes to things like wheels. One is even a wheel engineer, and most lace their own wheels.
My choices for tires were 26-inch, a 650b/27.5 inch or my roadie setup being 700c. This whole bike was designed for fire roads in the U.P. of Michigan or northern Minnesota, some single track (as much as I hate it) and sand (let’s not even speak of the dreaded sand barrens). It needed to fit up to 48mm tires, but I’d usually be running 42mm. That being said, a 650b wheel with 45mm tires has a similar circumference to a 700c wheel with 25mm tires. I had tried out Tim’s Salsa Cutthroat, which had 700c wheels with 2.1-inch tires, and I couldn’t get my feet on the ground. I felt far too high up and tippy, so this made my decision to go with 650b’s much easier. I will say a good friend is still disappointed I didn’t sway to his desires in seeing me choose 26-inch wheels.
The wheels I chose were well thought out. I needed rims that held low-pressure 48mm tires without feeling they’d roll off around corners, something essentially bombproof and nothing too heavy. HED Belgium wheels were my first choice.
My choice for spokes was left to another friend who generously offered to build my wheels for me. He’s well known in Madison as being one of the top wheel builders, so there was no way I was going to turn him down.
I knew I wanted 32 spokes, even though 650b wheels are stronger and less likely to go untrue. Going over rocks and roots while carrying a little weight made the choice easy – especially since I’d be going into wilderness areas – error on the safe side! Chuck’s choice for spokes is Sapim. He just needed to know if I wanted the beautifully crafted CX-Ray spokes or the standard spokes. My bank account decided, but I was assured the standard would still be amazing. When I picked up my freshly laced wheels a week later, I was instantly in love!
This bike was made for traveling in all conditions and all levels of light. Since I have a gravel event starting at midnight come August, I didn’t dare trust bar-mounted, rechargeable lights. I’ve made serious errors in that area during previous all-night gravel rides before, so I knew a dynamo hub was necessary. Although I would have loved a Schmidt hub, I heard the Shimano hubs had come such a long way with drag (they reduced it by 40-60 percent this year). Six extra watts needed from my legs while the light is on is well worth the piece of mind I won’t run out of light at 4 a.m. That being said, I did splurge on a Schmidt Edelux headlight. It’s designed so I won’t outrun it while going down a gravel hill in the dark, and the beam is near perfect so I can see the kamikaze raccoons on the side of the road before they take me down!
Chris King. In my mind, this was the only way to go since I know my headset will take more than a beating. Near perfect, in-house made bearings. Worth every penny.
I left the cages, bar tape, fenders, tires and bag out of this article since everyone has “what works for them.” Honestly, I’m still in the process of picking out my Swift randonneur bag. This stuff is what I consider the jewelry for my bike, and the fenders keep that jewelry clean!
The big day happened on April 6. I drove to La Crosse with a couple of teammates to pick up my new steed, give it a test ride in the coulees and make any minor adjustments that were needed. To be honest, I was terribly nervous. When so much energy and money go into a semi-unknown project, and so many adventures are riding on the project working, how can one not be nervous? I’m sure Paul was as well, but I was so happy to also see him giddy. To see a builder excited about a build is the same as seeing an artist excited about their work. You know when this happens, it will be magical. And magical it was! Aside from the initial “Hi, I’m Kierstin – we need to become friends if we’re going to bomb across the country together” conversation I had with my new bike (who I am naming Trouble), I had an amazing ride. We went up and down as many hills as we could together in a short time. My trust of it grew with each 18-percent descent. I came back all smiles and with only a couple minor changes that needed to be made. Best of all, my body didn’t hurt and I couldn’t wait to take it out the moment I got home, and the next day and the next. I think Trouble and I will be fantastic friends!
I cannot thank all the friends who had a hand in this build enough. There is absolutely no way I could have done it without them. They will now be with me for every adventure I go on – which is the nicest part of this bike in many ways.
May this bike outlive me and get passed down to another cyclist for their adventures!